Scribd brings back unlimited reading (sort of)

Once again, subscription service Scribd has changed its rules on how much content users are allowed to access. This makes at least the fourth time in the last two years that the service has changed the rules on its paying subscribers.

Originally, Scribd started off as an unlimited subscription service.  Upon finding that some users were actually voracious readers, in February 2016, the service removed a large number of romance books (a hugely popular category) and instituted content limits of 3 ebooks and 1 audiobook for the rest of its users. A few months later in March 2016, Scribd modified the limits again by introducing Selects, which made some books unlimited and others subject to the 3 ebook/1 audiobook limit. And finally, comics were removed the service’s catalog in January 2017.

Needless to say, if social media comments are anything to go by, a lot of subscribers have bailed on the service since 2016.

Scribd’s latest app update was released yesterday and as of today, the service will again be offering access to unlimited* access to books and audiobooks. (Please note the asterisk behind the word unlimited.)

The facts behind the asterisk can be found on the page with the EULA:

Your subscription entitles you to access an unlimited number of books and audiobooks in the Scribd library during the subscription period. For a small percentage of Scribd users who consume an unusual volume of materials, not every book or audiobook in the library will be immediately available. Scribd reserves and shall have the right in its sole discretion to add, modify, withdraw or delay at any time any particular Scribd Commercial Content from access by you for any reason including, without limitation, based on the costs generated to Scribd by such content or the nature of your use of the website. Scribd makes no guarantee as to the availability of specific titles or the timing of their availability. [Emphasis added]

In plain English, that means that if you consume too much content, Scribd can, and will, throttle you.

According to Publisher’s Weekly, the company’s CEO Trip Adler, the service has mechanisms in place “to limit particularly heavy consumption by a small percentage of its subscribers.” When overuse is detected, “controls will kick in to limit power readers’ access to the most expensive and popular titles.”  The service claims that even heavy users will still have access to a wide variety of content. There is no way of knowing how many books or audiobooks will be enough to kick in the controls.

It is that lack of transparency about how many is too many that is a real issue when evaluating their service. How does a consumer decide between subscribing to Audible or Scribd for audiobooks if one has a concrete limit and the other is unknown? And if Scribd want’s to woo back some of those former subscribers who felt betrayed over previous changes. This is particularly true for romance reader and audiobook listeners who tend to be heavy users of content and were really upset when they found out unlimited didn’t really mean unlimited. Even though Scribd is saying that upfront now, the lack of a solid number of allowable reads will make it a hard sell for many. Can subscribers trust that the service will be able to maintain this level of use (whatever that may be) at this price point?

Given Scribd’s own history and the fact that Playster (the other “unlimited” reading service) has recently deleted customers’ accounts for using too much content and raised prices and placed content limits on their subscribers, trusting a subscription service may be hard sell right now.

So what do you think? Are you a former Scribd subscriber? Will this make you go back?